Gramps, I hope you can help me. I am a member of the church with a strong testimony and have recently read some stuff about Joseph Smith and have felt very bad since reading it. I read that when he first started practicing polygamy he hid it from Emma. I just feel bad inside. What I read disturbed me and I can’t seem to shake the way that I feel. I know the church is true and although what I read bothers me, I won’t let it affect my testimony, but it’s haunting me and I just feel bad. I keep thinking about how hurtful this would have been to Emma and I can’t understand why it would have to be done that way. Please help me!!
One thing to remember in all of God’s dealings with men is that the men he chose, and chooses to this day are, were, and ever will be imperfect men. Moses had a speech impediment, some say he stuttered. Noah got drunk after the flood. Jonah physically fled from his prophetic call at first.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that just like these well known, and righteous, holy men of the Old Testament, Joseph Smith was also an imperfect man. For perspective, you have to put yourself in his shoes and in his time.
Joseph loved Emma without question, hesitation, or reservation. Imagine, in that setting, the Lord coming to Joseph and informing him not only about the practice of polygamy, but that he himself was commanded to accept additional wives.
Joseph knew his wife Emma and he knew her well. He knew she wouldn’t like the idea of polygamy, and indeed she didn’t when he finally told her about it. It took him even longer to inform the rest of the Church about it. In fact, it took a direct and clear warning from the Lord before Joseph finally revealed the revelations that he had received.
At once is clear the discomfort Joseph felt with this doctrine. He knew it would be trouble for the saints to accept. It was trouble for his own household. Indeed, the trouble over this doctrine and practice not only began trouble for the saints then, but to some degree or another, it is still shadowing us to this very day. Nevermind it hasn’t been acceptable in this church for over 100 years, people still tend to associate polygamy with the LDS Church.
Now, as to what is bothering you specifically, remember Joseph was just a mortal man with a divine calling. Only Christ was ever perfectly innocent of sin. Joseph, and all of the other people associated with the early years of the church made mistakes and sinned to some degree or another just like everyone in the church does to this day, including the prophet and apostles. Our callings do not make us above sin, whatever they are.
I assure you Joseph was never guilty of any deep or serious sin such as those who attack the church are likely to claim. For instance, in relation to the issue of polygamy, yes Joseph was sealed to several women during his life. However he never attempted to have children with any but his beloved Emma. There is no reliable record that states he was ever even intimate with any other woman besides Emma.
There is much more to be learned about the practice of polygamy and the doctrines behind it, much of which we may never learn in this life. At the same time, whenever God commands and man obeys, that man will always be right.
God commanded Joseph Smith, and being human, Joseph struggled with what he was commanded to do. He hesitated, worried, and wondered perhaps. However when the Lord reminded him of his calling and duyy, Joseph obeyed and the restoration of all things continued to unfold.
I can understand the unease you feel about this, but it’s important to remember that all of us here are operating under the same need for faith, and that definitely includes the prophets God calls to lead us. It’s no wonder that we are encouraged to sustain our leaders in their callings, for their tasks surely require great tests of faith such as this example of what Joseph and Emma faced.